by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 119 (September/October 2013)
In “An Uncompromising Look at a Bit of History” and in “Consensus and Higher Syntheses“, you can see much of what I have to say regarding “the Great Compromise Fallacy,” where the expectation of settling a dispute somewhere in the middle position drives all sides to represent their sides more extremely, in order to pull that middle position more toward their own actual position.
Thus, instead of being a tool for making peaceful settlements, as most of us Americans, including our own government, appear to believe, working toward “compromise” as an ideal and expectation drives the sides in a dispute farther and farther toward the extremes until violence ensues.
The main and preferred alternative is to work toward trade, where each side is working to persuade the other to give up what it values less in return for what the one side values more ,so that each gains from the exchange. Informed trade between equals usually leads to gain on either side, or the trade wouldn’t happen. Where informed trade between equals is in prospect, each side courts the other as its “customer,” to “make the sale”— thus drawing the opponents closer and closer together toward a peaceful settlement.
We Americans should know better, but still tout—even in our official government statements— the virtues of compromise. We Americans, heirs of the great American experiment in the world, fought our most terrible war, the Civil War or War Between the States, at the end of a long series of historic compromises.
Instead of taking a stand on either Syria or Egypt in their current throes, consistent with our higher principles of democracy and freedom, or even with understood principles of realpolitik, so that at least our present and future prospective allies know that they can depend upon the USA for what is agreed to between them and us, we have been waffling, making noises and backing back down, and urging “compromise” upon both sides.
Can anyone still doubt why Egypt, like so many similar situations of late, has fallen into violence against itself?
Our urging of “compromise,” even without our waffling, is like pouring gasoline on a fire with a firehose. How many more situations are we going to derange before some responsible adult in the room learns from history?
In 1948 I got into reading social theory, fortunately starting off with the wonderful model assembled by Arnold J. Toynbee’s multi-volume (even its abridgements came out in several volumes!) A Study of History, published by Oxford University Press. Thanks to Toynbee’s clear descriptions and categorizations and even clearer rationality, I became very interested in the question of why entire civilizations rise and fall and do the strange things that they do. In particular, I became quite interested in and sustained that interest in questions of why so many major civilizations prior to our own global-western civilization appear to have quite literally done themselves in by their own actions, and in whether and how we might be able to forestall our own high culture and society from following suit.
That interest in social theory also led me later to study Crane Brinton’s The Anatomy of Revolution, which predicts so well the course of events for the current Arab Spring, including the unfortunate turn that events in that context have recently taken, with the most dangerous and destructive phases of that situation apparently still pending before we can reach the healing phase of a “Thermidorian Reaction”.
My own continuing interest and research has taken me some miles distant from Toynbee’s model in detail, but it’s his shoulder that’s clearly under my feet (you can see my Sociotectonic model from these two monographs). Related to that, but as a distinct unit of, shall we say, perspective, is the following general summary of our Project Renaissance’s purpose and strategies and stakes.
In every human social situation, large and small, the advantage tends to accumulate into the hands of a favored few. (Besides other issues, that arrangement can be used to energize progress, defining tracks and directions where the less favored can labor to become more favored.)
Alas, once power relationships in human affairs get assymmetric, matters begin to revolve around what is convenient to the favored few; and thence matters tend to slide down that seemingly-everywhere “slippery slope” from what’s a courtesy, and what’s convenient to the stronger partner, toward exploitation of the weaker partner(s) and a corrupting abuse of power.
Indeed, every major problem in the world, and in our country, can well be attributed to someone’s abuse of power. If the playing field were level, then, a lot of our most major problems, including most of those of common concern or the great ones of universal concern, would simply solve and disappear.
Those parties and interests which are advantaged by one set of conditions are not always anxious to change out of the conditions which gave them their advantage in the first place. Thus, elites tend to resist change both good and bad and to impede the often necessary evolution of the situations where they hold such advantage—”necessary” because change is also happening elsewhere and everywhere, and anticipation of and/or adapting to change is essential to survival.
As a 501(C)(3) non-profit, Project Renaissance cannot endorse or oppose specific candidates or proposed legislation. What we CAN do is our current efforts to strengthen the individual and his/her ability to cope with the massive institutions and forces we have created around ourselves, parallel to those which have characterized the decline and fall of many great civilizations before our own. Hence we emphasize improved methods and techniques in three major areas:
- Education and enrichment of human development and abilities.
- Enabling as many people as we can to take on and solve the problems they encounter.
- Methods of governance of large and complex human societies and organizations.
These are large topics. Fortunately for advance in each of these large areas, huge resources already are at hand, which everyone is free to take advantage of, mostly obvious, and mostly skipped over by those who were professionally responsible for both the science and the dogma now prevailing in each of the three areas.
Moreover, some improvements might be advanced by “viral” means, here in the Information Age. We are running into more questions than we have answers, but that is probably a good thing in the general effort to re-empower individuals relative to the forces and institutionalized situations now surrounding them and now forestalling most of the urgently needed adaptations we all need to be making in response to our ever-changing universe.
Opinions expressed in the above are those of Win Wenger and not necessarily those of Project Renaissance and its associates.
Pertaining to the most fundamental aspects of how human beings relate to each other —
If you are still on the “nature” side of the “Nature vs. Nurture” issue and doubt that human abilities or intelligence or “I.Q.” can be significantly increased, please try this experiment:
- Google for brain plasticity and
- Google for epigenetics
and dip into some of the many well-done scientific studies in current standing on those two topics. Discover the amazing range and number of different ways one may easily change—in either direction up or down—someone’s basic abilities and sheer intelligence, and how we now relegate huge numbers of pluripotent human beings to restricted narrow roles and limited opportunities on the assumption that they can never operate outside that circumscribed range.
I wonder what life could be like if we ever somehow managed to move beyond the Dark Ages.